The Wyandot tribe was anciently divided into twelve
clans, or gentes. Each of these had a local
government, consisting of a clan council presided over by a clan chief.
These clan councils were composed of at least five persons, one man and
four women, and they might contain any number of women above four. Any
business pertaining purely to the internal affairs of the clans was
carried to the clan councils for settlement. An appeal was allowed from
the clan council to the tribal council. The four women of the clan
council regulated the clan affairs and selected the clan chief. The
office of clan chief was in a measure hereditary, although not wholly
so. The tribal council was composed of the clan chiefs, the hereditary
sachem, and such other men of the tribe of renown as the sachem might
with the consent of the tribal council call to the council fire. In
determining a question the vote was by clans, and not by individuals. In
matters of great importance it required a unanimous vote to carry a
The names of the ancient clans of the Wyandot tribe are
1. Big Turtle.
2. Little Turtle.
3. Mud Turtle.
9. Striped Turtle.
10. Highland Turtle, or Prairie Turtle.
These clan names are all
expressed in Wyandot, words so long and hard to properly pronounce that
they are omitted here. They are written in what the Wyandot call the
Order of Precedence and Encampment, as I have recorded them above. On
the march the warriors of the Big Turtle Clan marched in front, those of
the Little Turtle Clan marched next to them, and so on down to the last
clan, except the Wolf Clan, which had command of the march and might be
where its presence was most necessary. The tribal encampment was formed
"on the shell of the Big Turtle," as the old Wyandot said. This means
that the tents were arranged in a circular form as though surrounding
the shell of the Big Turtle. The Big Turtle Clan was placed where the
right fore-leg of the turtle was supposed to be and the other clans were
arranged around in their proper order, except the Wolf Clan, which could
be in the center of the inclosure on the turtle's back, or in front of
it where the turtle's head was supposed to be, as it was thought best.
In ancient times all their villages were built in this order, and in the
tribal council the clans took this order in seating themselves, with the
sachem either in the center or in the front of the door of the council
These clans were separated into two divisions, or
phratries. The first phratry consisted of the following tribes:
The second phratry consisted of the following tribes:
1. Big Turtle.
2. Little Turtle.
3. Mud Turtle.
6. Striped Turtle.
7. Highland Turtle, or Prairie Turtle.
The Mediator, Executive Power, and Umpire of the tribe
was the Wolf Clan, which stood between the phratries, and bore a cousin
relation to each.
All the clans of a phratry bore the relation of
brothers to one another, and the clans of one phratry bore the relation
of cousins to those of the other phratry.
Their marriage laws were fixed by this relationship.
Anciently a man of the first phratry was compelled to marry a woman of
the second phratry, and vice versa. This was because every man of a
phratry was supposed to be the brother of every other man in it, and
every woman in the phratry was supposed to be his sister. The law of
marriage is now so modified that it applies only to the clans, a man of
the Deer Clan being permitted to marry a woman of Bear, Snake, Hawk, or
any other clan but his own. Indeed, even this modification had now
almost disappeared. If a man of the Deer Clan married a woman of the
Porcupine Clan, all of his children were of the Porcupine Clan, for the
gens always follows the woman and never the man. The descent and
distribution of property followed the same law; the son could inherit
nothing from his father, for they were always of different clans. A
man's property descended to his nearest kindred through his mother. The
woman is always the head of the Wyandot family.
Five of the ancient clans of the Wyandot are extinct.
They are as follows:
(1) Mud Turtle
(3) Striped Turtle
(4) Highland, or Prairie Turtle
Those still in existence are as follows:
(1) Big Turtle
(2) Little Turtle
The present government of the Wyandot tribe is based on
this ancient division of the tribes. An extract from the Constitution
may be of interest. It was adopted September 23, 1873:
It shall be the duty of the said Nation to elect their
officers on the second Tuesday in July of each year. That said election
shall be conducted in the following manner. Each Tribe (clan),
consisting of the following Tribes: The Big and Little Turtle,
Porcupine, Deer, Bear, and Snake, shall elect a chief; and then the Big
and Little Turtle and Porcupine Tribes shall select one of their three
chiefs as a candidate for Principal Chief. The Deer, Bear, and Snake
Tribes shall also select one of their three chiefs as candidate for
Principal Chief; and then at the general election to be held on the day
above mentioned, the one receiving the highest number of votes cast
shall be declared the Principal Chief; the other shall be declared the
Second Chief. The above-named tribes shall on the above named election
day elect one or more sheriffs.
The Wolf Tribe shall have the right to elect a chief
whose duty shall be that of Mediator.
In case of misdemeanor on the part of any Chief, for
the first offense the Council shall send the Mediator to warn the party;
for the second offense the party offending shall be liable to removal by
the Mediator, or Wolf and his Clan, from office.
The origin of these clans is hidden in the obscurity of
great antiquity. They are of religious origin. We learn something of
them from the Wyandot mythology, or folk-lore. The ancient Wyandot
believed that they were descended from these animals, for whom their
clans were named. The animals from which they were descended were
different from the animal of the same species to-day. They were deities,
zoological gods. The animals of the same species are descended from
them. These animals were the creators of the universe. The Big Turtle
made the Great Island, as North America was called, by the Wyandot, and
he bears it on his back to this day. The Little Turtle made the sun,
moon, and many of the stars. The Mud Turtle made a hole through the
Great Island for the sun to pass back to the East through after setting
at night, so he could arise upon a new day. While making this hole
through the Great Island the Mud Turtle turned aside from her work long
enough to fashion the future home of the Wyandot, their happy
hunting-grounds, to which they go after death. The sun shines there at
night while on his way back to the East. This land is called the land of
the Little People, a race of pigmies created to assist the Wyandot. They
live in it, and preserve the ancient customs, habits, beliefs, language
and government of the Wyandot for their use after they leave this world
by death. These Little People come and go through the "living rock," but
the Wyandot must go to it by way of a great underground city where they
were once hidden while the works of the world were being restored after
destruction in a war between two brothers who were gods.
All Wyandot proper names had their foundation in this
clan system. They were clan names. The unit of the Wyandot social and
political systems was not the family nor the individual, but the clan.
The child belonged to its clan first, to its parents afterwards. Each
clan had its list of proper names, and this list was its exclusive
property which no other clan could appropriate or use. They were
necessarily clan names.
The customs and usages governing the formation of clan
proper names demanded that they be derived from some part, habit, action
or peculiarity of the animal from which the clan was supposed to be
descended. Or they might be derived from some property, law, or
peculiarity of the element in which such animal lived. Thus a proper
name was always a distinctive badge of the clan bestowing it.
When death left unused any original clan proper name,
the next child born into the clan, if of the sex to which the vacant
name belonged, had such vacated name bestowed upon it. If no child was
born, and a stranger was adopted, this name was given to such adopted
person. This was the unchangeable law, and there was but one proviso or
exception to it. When a child was born under some extraordinary
circumstances, or peculiarity, or with some distinguishing mark, or a
stranger adopted with these, the council-women of the clan informed
themselves of all the facts and devised a name in which all these facts
were imbedded. This name was made to conform to the ancient law
governing clan proper names if possible, but often this could not be
done. These special names died with their owners, and were never
The parents were not permitted to name the child; the
clan bestowed the name. Names were given but once a year, and always at
the ancient anniversary of the Green Corn Feast. Anciently, formal
adoptions could be made at no other time. The name was bestowed by the
clan chief. He was a civil officer of both his clan and the tribe. At an
appointed time in the ceremonies of the Green Corn Feast each clan chief
took an assigned position, which in ancient times was the Order of
Precedence and Encampment, and parents having children to be named filed
before him in, the order of the ages of the children to be named. The
council-women stood by the clan chief, and announced to him the name of
each child presented, for all clan proper names were made by the
council-women. This he could do by simply announcing the name to the
parents, or by taking the child in his arms and addressing it by the
name selected for it.
The adoption of a stranger was into some family by
consent, or at the instance of the principal woman of the family. It was
not necessary that the adoption be made at the Green Corn Feast. The
adoption was not considered complete, however, until it was ratified by
the clan chief at the Green Corn Feast. This ratification might be
accomplished in the simple ceremonial of being presented at this time to
the clan chief by one of the Sheriffs. His clan name was bestowed upon
him, and he was welcomed in a few well-chosen words, and the ceremony
was complete. Or the adoption might be performed with as much display,
ceremony and pomp as the tribal council might, from any cause, decree.
The tribal council controlled in some degree the matter of adoptions. In
ancient times, when many prisoners of war were brought in it determined
how many should be tortured and how many adopted.
Lalemant says the original and true name of the Wyandot
In history the Wyandot have been spoken of by the
6. Petuneux or Nation du Petun (Tobacco)
They call themselves:
1. When'-duht, or
They never accepted the name
Huron, which is of French origin.
The Wyandot have been always considered the remnant of
the Hurons. That they were related to the people called Hurons by the
French, there is no doubt. After having studied them carefully for
almost twenty years, I am of the opinion that the Wyandot are more
closely related to the
Seneca than they were to the ancient Hurons.
Both myth and tradition of the Wyandot say they were
"created" in the region between St. James's Bay and the coast of
Labrador. All their traditions describe their ancient home as north of
the mouth of the St. Lawrence.
In their traditions of their migrations southward they
say they came to the island where Montreal now stands. They took
possession of the country along the north bank of the St. Lawrence from
the Ottawa River to a large lake and river far below Quebec.
On the south side of the St. Lawrence lived the Seneca,
so the Wyandot traditions recite. The Seneca claimed the island upon
which the city of Montreal is built. The Seneca and Wyandot have always
claimed a cousin relation with each other. They say that they have been
neighbors from time immemorial. Their languages are almost the same,
each being the dialect of an older common mother-tongue. They are as
nearly alike as are the Seneca and Mohawk dialects. The two tribes live
side by side at this time, and each can speak the tongue of the other as
well as it speaks its own.
When the Wyandot came to the St. Lawrence, and how long
they remained there, cannot now be determined. Their traditions say that
they were among those that met Cartier at Hochelaga in 1535. According
to their traditions, Hochelaga was a Seneca town.
It had been the opinion of writers upon the subject
that the Wyandot migrated from the St. Lawrence directly to the point
where they were found by the French. Whatever the fact may be, their
traditions tell a different story. Their route was up the St. Lawrence,
which they crossed, and along the south shore of Lake Ontario. They held
this course until they arrived at the Falls of Niagara, where they
settled and remained for some years.
The Wyandot removed from the Falls of Niagara, the site
now occupied by Toronto, Canada. Their removal from Niagara was in
consequence of the Iroquois coming into their historic seat in what is
now New York. This settlement they called by their word which means
"plenty," or "a land of plenty." They named it so because of the
abundance of game and fish they found, and of the abundance of corn,
beans, squashes and tobacco they raised. The present name of that city
is only a slight change of the old Wyandot name, which was pronounced
As the Iroquois pushed farther westward, the Wyandot
became uneasy because of former wars with them and finally abandoned
their country at Toronto and migrated northward. Here they came in
contact with the Hurons, who tried to expel them, but were unable to do
so. The French found them in alliance with the Hurons, but record that
they had but recently been at war with that people. When the Jesuits
went among the Hurons the Wyandot were a part of the Huron Confederacy.
Their history from this point is well known.
If it turns out that there is any reliance to be placed
in the traditions of the Wyandot, they were found in their historic seat
about one hundred and five years from the time they were first seen by
the French at Montreal in 1535. Their migration from the St. Lawrence,
by way of the Niagara Falls and Toronto to the Blue Mountains on the
shores of the Nottawassaga Bay, occurred after the French first came to
The Wyandot were involved in the general ruin wrought
by the Iroquois.
The Wyandot came to Kansas from Upper Sandusky, Ohio,
in the summer of 1843. They stopped about Westport, Mo., and some of
them camped on the south and east side of the Kansas River north of the
Shawnee line, the land being now in Kansas City, Kansas. By the terms of
the treaty made at Upper Sandusky, March 17, 1842, the Wyandot were
given one hundred and forty-eight thousand acres of land, to be located
in the Indian country which became Kansas. The lands there to be had did
not suit them. Their reservation was located on the Neosho. They were
far advanced toward civilization, and did not wish to live so far from a
civilized community. They had attempted to purchase a strip of land
seven miles wide by twenty-five miles long adjoining the State of
Missouri from the Shawnee, but that tribe finally refused to sell. The
Wyandot justly complained that they had given both the Shawnee and
Delaware homes in Ohio, and now neither tribe really desired to sell
them a home in the West. But the Delawares did, at length sell them
thirty-nine sections in the fork of the Kansas and Missouri rivers, now
the eastern part of Wyandotte County, for forty-eight thousand dollars.
They moved on this tract in the winter of 1843-44.
The first Mission ever founded in the world by the
Methodist Episcopal Church was among the Wyandot at Upper Sandusky. This
mission was brought bodily to Kansas by the Wyandot. It is now the
Washington Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church, Kansas City, Kansas. The
division in the Methodist Episcopal Church caused dissension in the
Wyandot nation, and the Church South, in that Nation, organized at that
time. This Church also is an active organization in Kansas City, Kansas,
at this time. This author had in his collection of historical papers the
records of the Sandusky Mission and the documents relating to the
separation of the Church in Kansas.
By treaty concluded by the Wyandot with the United
States at Washington, D. C., January 31, 1855, they dissolved their
tribal relations and became citizens of the United States. They took
their lands in severalty, and the entire reservation was surveyed and
allotted to the members of the tribe as citizens. The titles to the land
held in Wyandotte County are based on the U. S. patents to these
allotments. The towns of Armstrong, Armourdale, Wyandotte, and old
Kansas City, Kansas, were consolidated by act of the legislature into
the present Kansas City, Kansas.
The unsettled times in Kansas prior to and during the
Civil War worked hardship on many of the Wyandot. They lost their
property and became very poor. By treaty made February 23, 1867, the
Government provided a reservation of twenty thousand acres of land on
the Neosho, in what is now Oklahoma, for these Wyandot. They immediately
gathered there and resumed their tribal relations. Most of the Wyandot
people are now to be found there.
Native American Nations